When Budget Cuts Happen: How to Survive

budget cuts

A couple of years ago we went through pretty significant budget cuts. Like 50% kind of significant. When the economy first started souring, we were not affected at first.  Our giving remained pretty high for awhile.  Then, like most of the churches I know, the hit came.  We had a lot of expenses that could not be cut, such as building costs.  The cuts had to come from ministry budgets.

It hurt.  Up to that point our budgets had increased every year.  We had been very, very blessed.  It hurt and I was bad at it.  The first year I changed the numbers on the spreadsheet but didn’t change all of my spending habits.  That did not end well.  But I learned.

This summer we had to do another 20% cut.  And it hurt again, but not nearly as bad.  God used this whole budget trimming process to teach me a few things:

–  When you don’t have lots of money, you can’t do everything.  Our pastor said lots of times (and now even he’s sick of the statement) that scarcity brings clarity.  We had to define what was most important and just do that.  I love camp, but we were spending $5000 on chaperones and travel with not a whole lot of fruit.

–  When you don’t have lots of money, you become an even better steward of what God’s given.  You seek to use it more wisely and are very slow to make big decisions.  That’s generally a good thing (so I hear).

–  God can use lack of money to bring about new vision.  We totally changed our Wednesday night programming from a conversation that began as a money-saving conversation.  Money was not the ultimate reason we made a change, but it got the conversation started.  We went from a $5000 a year Wednesday night program to something that’s working better with our kids and not costing hardly a dime.

–  When you don’t have lots of money, you get a little more creative.  You get snacks donated, you figure out cheaper ways to do things, or you find other solutions. Our VBS family night had always been a worship service and lots of inflatables in the parking lot.  We switched to a service and give away a Wii.  Saved $1000+  and I’m not sure anyone even noticed.

–  You realize what your ministry is really made of.  If the success of my ministry is dependent on what money can buy, I’ve missed it.  Money is nice and God can absolutely use tangibles and cool “stuff” to make ministry better.  But that “stuff” can’t be the end game.  At the core, my ministry needs to be dependent on the power of the gospel and the power of relationships in the context of a whole lot of fun.  That doesn’t cost money.

What do you do with budget cuts?  Here a few survival steps:

1.  Pray. God is not surprised.  And God is not going back on His promise to supply all of your needs.  He is just going to go about it a different way.

2.  Hush. Whining and complaining is only going to get on people’s nerves.  Sure you need to stand up for your ministry and sure, you need a safe place to vent.  But then be quiet and suck it up and figure it out.  No, it isn’t fair.  Yes, it really sucks.  Yes, your ministry is super valuable.  But it is what it is.  And you need to figure it out and you won’t make many friends by whining.  Be the example and don’t whine.

3.  Prioritize. When budgets are cut, you are going to have to make changes.  You can not do what you’ve always done just like you’ve always done it.  That’s just a fact.   Identify what is non-negotiable in your ministry.  Be careful, because your first instinct is that everything you do is non-negotiable.  That’s really not true.  I probably asked myself a bazillion times, “Do we really have to have that…”  If it can go, give it the boot!

4.  Get Creative. How can you do what you do cheaper or more simply?  Are there details you can cut that will save money, but won’t impact the results?  What can you buy more cheaply? We can get spoiled and we can get stuck.  Try to look at it from fresh eyes.

5.  Be a cheerleader. Those you lead will reflect your attitude.  If you are mopey and play the victim of the terrible budget cuts, they will do the same.  If you assure them that God will still work and encourage them to be creative and join the process, they will likely rise to the challenge.

What would you add to the list?  How do you survive budget cuts?

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Jenny Funderburke Smith
Jenny Funderburke is a blessed children's minister in Brandenton, FL who is loving life trying to do what God wants her to do with all of the families at West Bradenton Baptist Church.